State Meddling Stifles China’s Film Industry

In the International Herald Tribune, Didi Kirsten Tatlow writes about the delayed opening of a recent movie, The Last Supper, and how government control over the film industry is impacting filmmakers’ creativity as well as their profits:

The delay points to a central quandary regarding culture in China today. Officials want to impress the world with its richness, but they also want to manage it as they have managed the economy, and this constant meddling leaves culture in a deeply uncomfortable place, suspended between genuine creativity and political correctness, between greatness and mediocrity.

In film, weak ideas, often because of political restraints and bowdlerized scripts, and delayed openings because of lengthy censorship are weakening the ability of Chinese directors to attract audiences. As foreign imports increase, people are voting with their feet and domestic movies are slipping financially.


To try to change that, film bureaucrats said last week that the National Film Development Fund would return its 5 percent cut of box office takings to theaters that show more domestic films, in a kind of reward.

Yet in a sign of what officials really intend, at the same news conference, Sun Zhijun, deputy head of the party’s Propaganda Department, said: “Some media organizations and people believe that deepening the cultural reform is for the purposes of making the culture an industry and wholly market-based. This is not true.”

In an accompanying blog post, Tatlow writes about the difficulties of parsing out why censors choose to restrict one film over another. For more on how State Administration on Radio, Film, and Television censors films, see the text of a decision to censor the 2000 film Devils on the Doorstep, via CDT.

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